my report on The
Early Trips, I covered travels back as far as 1940, when I was
18 months old, through 1978. Then I covered The
Later Trips, which were trips with my grandson Johnny (AKA JD) from 1990
to 1999. This report covers other camping trips, from childhood
through the 1990s, most of which were before I had a travel trailer.
been camping so many times, it’s hard to remember details of any
but the most recent trips. However, there are some events that stand
out, and I’ll try to briefly outline those. Backpacking came
later, and I kept a log of those trips, so it’s a little easier to
dredge up those memories. Still, there were so many that not all of
them deserve mention. This article was originally posted in May,
2009; there was a major update
in December, 2012 and another in
not go camping when I was growing up. We lived in the rural Sierra Nevada
foothills, and did not have electricity for the first six years of
my life. This meant no indoor plumbing, cooking on a wood stove,
pumping water with a hand pump and carrying the bucket to the house,
and going “down the hill” when nature called. I’m guessing my
parents felt this was enough primitive living to last a lifetime, so
why deliberately go after it?
When I was ten, I joined the 4-H club, and this organization
sponsored a three or four day camp every year in
Yosemite, so I was not totally deprived of outdoor living.
these trips were quite different from my early adult camping
experiences, I enjoyed them greatly. As you can imagine, they were
highly organized, with a dozen or more adult leaders, and at least a
hundred kids, ranging in age from ten to eighteen. Unlike my later
camping, much of the “dirty work” was done by someone else. The
tents were already set up when we arrived. Although we had to stand in line
for meals, all the cooking and cleaning was done by someone else.
And naturally, most of the activities were planned and directed by
– you guessed it – someone else.
major activity was hiking, and each day we could choose from several
half day hikes around
Yosemite Valley. I had been to Yosemite with my parents
many times, and in those days, the crowds were much smaller, so you could drive
to all the points of interest. This, therefore, was my first experience with
the trail system that crisscrosses the relatively flat, seven square
mile valley. Some of the trails went into the rocks and trees at the
base of the cliffs, so here we got to see some territory that was
entirely new to me.
destinations included the Government Center (site of the museum,
headquarters and various stores); Happy Isles, where the state of
California operated a fish hatchery, Mirror Lake, a wide spot in
Tenaya Creek at the upper end of the valley, and the Vernal Fall
bridge, which offered a view of the lower of the two great falls on
the Merced River.
day each year we went on an all day hike, an adventure most of us
looked forward to. This started with us standing in line a second
time to get a box lunch, then heading off for one of several more
kids (and I can’t recall now where the line was drawn) could go to
the top of Half Dome, guided by a vigorous young adult leader
(I’ll discuss my own hikes to Half Dome in my backpacking report).
However, looking back, the hikes we younger kids took would be more
than I’d like to try today. Over the years we hiked to Little
Yosemite Valley, above Vernal and Nevada
Merced River; to the top of Yosemite
Falls, and to the top of Glacier Point. Of these destinations, only the
latter is accessible by road, so I had been there numerous times
with my parents, but getting there by foot made it very special. All
of these all-day hikes were around eight miles round trip.
left 4-H, my camping days were over until I got married, unless you
count our week-long bivouac exercise in Army basic training (I
already living in Bakersfield
when Jackie and I got married in June, 1963. Near the end of
September, while the weather was still very hot, she suggested we go
camping. Her family had done lots of camping when she was younger,
but I had not even considered it after my 4-H days. However, I was willing to give it
a try, so we headed into the extreme southern Sierra Nevada
on Highway 178, passing Lake
Isabella, then on State 155 through Wofford
Heights. From there we took local roads, some of them paved and some not.
The details are fuzzy now, but we probably had a map of the Sequoia
National Forest, and we found ourselves on a road that took us up to the 7,000 foot
an official campground, we set up our weekend home at a flat spot
along the road, near a tiny creek. We had our kitten, Suzie, with
us, and I remember tying her to a heavy piece of wood so she
wouldn’t wander off. She seemed to enjoy the outdoor experience,
until we started home and dropped down into warmer air (the
temperature exceeded 100 degrees in Bakersfield
that weekend, the last day of September).
hiked around, and drove up some dirt roads, including a stop at a
beautiful meadow near 10,000 feet, where we were quickly driven back
into the car by thousands of large, blood-thirsty mosquitoes.
our time in Bakersfield, we went to that same area several times, usually staying at
Flat Campground. We also went to Balch
Park, farther north in Tulare County,
and a little lower in elevation, and this is where we took our
daughter, Terry, on her first camping trip at three months of age.
explored areas to the south of us in the Tehachapi Mountains, staying at a campground in
National Forest, almost within sight of Interstate 5. Despite the proximity of the
highway, the campground was peaceful and located among live oak and
other low elevation vegetation. Driving through this area in 2009 I
could not spot this campground, and I suspect it might have been
covered by Pyramid
off I-5, but a few miles up into the mountains in Los
National Forest, we stayed at a campground on Mt.
Pinos. The upper part of this area gets quite a bit of snow and is a
popular ski and sledding area. On our first visit, we were surprised to find
snow after driving up from the hot, dry area around Frasier
Park. The campground is quite developed, with paved driveways, and high
enough in elevation to escape the heat of the San Joaquin
Valley. Although both these I-5 camping areas were quite nice, we made
only one trip to each of them.
we moved to Fresno, and about the same time, our daughter Jennifer was born. It was
now time to find some new camping spots. Although I had attended Fresno
State College for four years, I had never gone to any of the popular
recreation areas in the Sierra Nevada
east of Fresno. So over the next few years, we discovered the best spots in
Sequoia and Kings
National Parks, the Shaver
Lake and Huntington
Lake areas, and the Sierra
first visit to what became one of my very favorite places was a day
trip. I had read a little description of the Nelder Grove of giant
sequoias on my map of the Sierra
National Forest. I was familiar with the Mariposa Grove of “big trees” in
National Park, so I was unprepared for what we found at Nelder. Because this area
had been logged in the late 1800s, the main camping area was more
notable for giant stumps than giant trees. But we soon learned that
there were trails and roads leading to many of the still-living
trees, and it became a regular camping spot throughout our marriage
and long after. (To read more about my experiences in Nelder Grove, click
particular trip ended in a rather adventurous manner. We met my
parents at the small campground in the grove, and spent the night.
When we left the next day, we found our usual access road blocked by
an overturned logging truck. None of us were familiar with the roads
in the area, so it must have been instinct that caused my father to
turn on to the “right” road, which led him out to Highway 41 in
a few miles.
the other hand, studied my map, and observed that I could go back
into the campground, take the road which went up the mountain to the
upper part of the grove, and connect with roads that led out to the
main highway. What the map did not
show was that several miles of this road were suitable for four
wheel drive vehicles only, so we found ourselves basically letting
our 1966 Plymouth Valiant roll down a rocky downhill trail, riding
the brake all the way, till we came to a somewhat better dirt road
that led us out to civilization.
for adventurous souls like myself, the road to the upper grove is
now closed and available only for hiking. And the “right” road
that my father took, which was newly created and not even on my map,
is now paved and is the standard route to the grove.
time we camped at Nelder Grove, we were joined by our good friends,
who I’ll call the Jones family to spare them any possible public humiliation that
publishing this account could bring.
Mr. Jones was fond of a few drinks while camping, then a few more drinks.
After he had so indulged, we went for a drive (with me at the
wheel). Mr. J
decided to enhance the outdoor experience by riding on top of the
car, clinging to the luggage rack of my Opal. Of course, we were
driving slowly on dirt roads, but it was an event my daughters still
speak of with amusement. It also serves as a good measuring tool –
if someone is so inebriated he wants to ride on top of the car, its
best to let him – otherwise he might want to get behind the wheel!
made many other trips to Nelder, with my wife and kids while I was
married, with my kids after our divorce, and later with my two
grandsons. Recently most of these have been day trips, but there is
one other camping trip worth recounting.
have mentioned, there was a road that left the campground, and wound
to the upper part of Nelder Grove, where some of the more dramatic
trees are to be seen. About half way up, a rough, narrow, but
passable dirt road ran into an area I called Redwood Glen. Here
there were five or six large trees, a nice meadow with a fallen
redwood leaning out over it, and some open areas for walking,
picnicking and camping.
visited this area by myself, and with my daughters when they were
young, and thought it would be a nice place to camp overnight.
Around this time we had discovered the joys of candy-ass backpack
trips. This is where you find a place that you can reach in a half
hour or less, hike in, and spend the night. Redwood Glenn seemed
perfect for this purpose, so one summer day my daughter Jennifer,
our friend (and her former boyfriend) Tim, and I headed up the road
to Nelder Grove, parked my Datsun pickup at the head of the road,
and hiked in, at least a full half mile, and set up camp.
the evening, just before dark, we decided our camping trip would be
enhanced if we had some beer. So we made the short hike out to the pickup, drove
the 11 dirt road miles out to the highway and the few paved miles up
the road to Fish
Camp, and gathered the needed supplies. If my
memory is correct, when we got back, we drove in to camp, thus
reducing our return hike to the few dozen yards from the tent to
where we parked, and enjoyed the rest of the outing.
first candy ass backpack trip was to a nearby area. On the road to
Nelder there was a rough dirt road that led in to a nice meadow,
then a little father to another meadow, with an old, partly
collapsed cabin, leading me to name it Cabin Meadow. By the time I
had been backpacking for a few years, the access road had been
blocked off, so Tim and I chose this as our destination for a short
pack trip (this one close to a mile!)
our activities during this trip: Watching a herd of cows munch their
way slowly up and down the meadow (which we called “cow
soccer”), walking through the lower meadow when it was so thick
with flying ladybugs that several ran into us with each step (one
even flew into Tim’s ear, but came right back out, after a few
panicky moments); and stepping into a damp, sandy area which proved
to be just short of quicksand (no one got sucked under).
back to a more or less chronological report, I’ll touch on some of
the other favorite spots we “discovered” in the mountains east
Fresno. During the summer of 1975 and 1976, I was unemployed much of the
time, so I took advantage of this enforced leisure to do some
exploring when I could spend more than just a weekend.
A bit of explanation: Highway 168 runs from Fresno to Huntington
Lake, passing Shaver Lake. Both lakes are part of the Southern
California Edison’s Big
Creek Project, which included construction
of dams and tunnels in the early part of the 20th century. At Shaver
Lake, a right turn puts you on the Dinkey Creek Road,
which goes 15 miles to a developed camping area that includes
rental cabins, campgrounds, a store, and a ranger station.
right turn at Dinkey Creek puts you on the McKinley
Grove Road, which leads to Courtright
Reservoirs, part of the
Pacific Gas & Electric hydro system. If you know anything about
roads, you know that many dirt roads lead off these main roads –
roads built for logging, fire control, access to grazing land, and
maybe even some that were created solely for recreational use.
these years I started exploring the side roads in this area, leading
to one of our more fortuitous discoveries, the camp site we called
Bear Creek. Now there are almost as many “Bear Creeks” as there
are bears in the Sierra (and everywhere else that bears are found), but this
particular one is accessible by turning off the north side of the
road a few miles past Dinky Creek, and driving into the forest on a
mostly unpaved road, then turning down an even narrower dirt road
that ends at a primitive camp site on the north bank of the creek.
The creek eventually flows into Dinkey Creek, crossing the McKinley
Grove road a mile or two past the original turn-off.
first arrived at this spot there was no one around, but there were
some “homemade” wooden benches, shelves and a sort of
table. The creek runs through a long, straight channel with a solid
rock bed, into a pool that is deep enough for swimming. The section
above the pool is quite shallow, so the water has a chance to warm
camped elsewhere, but immediately decided that this would be my next
camping spot. The kids and I went there a number of times over the
years, but eventually we discovered other places, and quite a few
years passed without a trip to Bear Creek. When I did drive in there
once, I found quite a few people camped there, so like many hidden
spots, it had been found by more and more people over the years. We
did go there for swimming a couple of times while we were camped at
Stargazer Rock, trips that I’ve described more fully in 2005,
I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. My first camping in
this area was at lower elevations, closer to Shaver Lake. There were two official campgrounds along the Dinkey Creek road,
and I tried them both. I remember one trip when I camped at the
second one, about 6,000 feet at Bald Mountain Summit, during a particularly cool period. I
was very cold at night, and ended up moving down to the lower one,
Swanson Meadow at around 4,000 feet, the second
small stream, Laurel Creek, runs more or less parallel to and west of Bear Creek. This creek
also crosses the McKinley Grove road maybe a mile or less from the
Bear Creek Crossing. When I first found Bear Creek, I was camped on
the dirt road close to Laurel
was an undeveloped site that had been used for camping many times,
and there was at least one other party camped across the road from
me at the time. The most notable feature in the area was the old log
foundation of a building of some sort. There were also various metal
objects left behind by logging operations, mostly rusted pieces of
first and only time I brought my cat, Furry Lewis, with me. Like
most pets, he enjoyed exploring new territory, but stayed close to
camp. During the first night I was awakened by some small noise, and
next to my bed Furry had caught a mouse, no doubt saving me from a
thing I almost always do during camping trips is drive around
exploring the area. It was on this trip that I turned down a road
with a sign “Swamp
2 miles.” The first few hundred yards were normal dirt road, bumpy
but no problem for a passenger car. Suddenly the road turned into a
rock pile, and I immediately realized that this was a four-wheel
drive trail. I carefully backed up the 100 feet or so I had gone on
the rocks, with Furry meowing his concern in the back of the Opal.
this general area I found a nice spot along Dinkey Creek, known as
Ross Crossing, several miles below the official campground. It was
at this location that I started my brief experiment of swimming in
water that was way too cold for me. I went into the creek, and found
that I could stand to stay in a while, although it was way colder
than anything I had ever been in before. I had a thermometer with
me, so I also began a long-term practice of checking the water
temperature, and learned that it was 63 degrees. This seems fairly
balmy for air, but remember, you are putting your 98.6 degree body
into water that is over 30 degrees colder. Over the years I found
that 63 was the lower limit; when I went into a river that
registered 61, I had to get out quickly. The lowest temperature I
ever registered was in the upper Kings River
during the spring snow melt, 41 degrees. If you fell in, I believe
that would be cold enough to paralyze you before you could swim out,
no matter how good a swimmer you were.
I discuss my next camping area, I am going to digress for a brief
essay about meadows. The definition of this land feature seems to
vary from region to region, but in the Sierra Nevada, meadows usually involve considerable moisture. They are open,
relatively level patches of land, ranging in size from a few square
feet to a stretch of land a mile or two long.
definition a Sierra meadow is an area where it is too wet to support
the growth of trees, so they are normally bright with green grass
and other low plants, flowers, and a few small bushes near the
edges. A small creek runs through most meadows, and there is often a
large marshy area. It is not unusual to be walking through the grass
on solid ground, only to sink into water up to your ankles.
rainfall in the area comes mostly from November to May, meadows tend
to be green and damp in the spring and early summer, dryer and
sometimes brown in late summer and fall (especially at lower
the long term, the nature of meadows is to disappear, although
various factors keep many of them in existence for centuries. Trees
grow in the drier land near the edges of the meadows, and begin to
use more water, allowing the meadow to dry out at the edges. Trees
then move into the area a little farther, drawing even more water, gradually shrinking the size of the meadow.
backpack trip I talked with a back country ranger who had spent the
morning pulling up small lodgepole pines in a nearby meadow. He had
mixed feelings about his project, recognizing that he was
interfering with nature, but also cognizant of the value of meadows
as a habitat for various plant and animal species.
this leads to the time I camped on an island in a meadow, or
something close to it. I went up the road past Huntington
Lake, commonly called the Kaiser Pass Road, over the pass at 9,000 feet, and down a few miles to what looked
like a nice spot near the road by a big meadow. I had to carry all
my stuff from the car two hundred feet or so across a narrow strip
of meadow between the road and my “island,” but then I had a few
hundred square feet of solid ground, with a beautiful view.
main thing I remember about this trip was that it was quite cool
even in the warmest part of the day (it was probably near the 8,000
foot level). When I sat in my lawn chair to read, I had to keep
moving it into the sun, since there was a noticeable temperature
drop between sun and shade.
at the notes I have on camping trips from these long ago days, there
are a lot more outings, but only a few worthy of further discussion.
One of the most memorable, though not exactly the most fun, was
camping in the rain at what I call California Flats. This is an area
along California Creek on the road that runs from Sky Ranch Road
to the Nelder Grove road, about two miles from the grove.
have built fire rings and created a de facto campground in this area
over the years, but there wasn’t much more than a small clearing
with a primitive fire ring when we went there in October of 1983.
includes Jim and Sandy McGee, their daughters Rachel and Sandy, and
another friend, Gary Reed (Mikie
and I visited Sandy and her now grown daughters in Oklahoma in 2004).
down the grade into Oakhurst on State Highway 41, you get a good
view of the higher mountains, and it looked very much like it was raining
or soon would be in the upper elevations. Nevertheless, we had
loaded our gear and driven 45 miles, and we were not going to be
arrived at the camp it was cool and cloudy, and within a very short
time a light ran began. For the next several hours we kept hoping
that the rain would soon back off, but it never did, although it was
never very heavy. It had rained there not long before, so all the
wood was already wet, and getting a fire going kept us busy and kept
our minds off the fact that we were unable to do anything except try
to get a fire going.
got a small (not warm) fire going, we piled damp pieces of wood all
around on the fire ring to dry out. As they dried, we put them in
the fire, and began drying more. In case you’d like to try this
some day, be aware that it took about four hours to get a really
good, warm fire going.
all this time we had rain off and on, ranging from a slight mist to
a steady rain (never a downpour, thankfully). Jim backed his
hatchback vehicle up close to the fire, and his daughters sat in
there. I stuck my umbrella down the back of my jacket so I had some
protection and kept my hands free to hold a beer and put wood on the
I had a
tent, so I didn’t have any problems at night. I don’t remember
what Jim, Sandy and Gary did, but probably the McGees all slept
in the car. We woke up to clear blue skies, although a few clouds
drifted in during the morning. We drove to Nelder Grove and enjoyed
the clean, cool air, but we all agreed that we never wanted to camp
in the rain again. I did camp at that location another time or two,
but it’s not really that nice a spot.
other hand, Mill Flat Campground is a beautiful spot, at least
for winter and early spring camping. In fact, this was the first
place I ever camped during any season other than summer. I had
always just had the idea that camping was a summer activity, but one
year it occurred to me that our Sierra foothills at 2,000 feet or
lower are very nice in fall and winter when it’s sunny, and at that elevation snow is
Flat Creek runs out of Lake
Sequoia, near the edge of Kings Canyon National Park, and where it joins the
is a large flat area which contains a developed forest service
some time free during the Thanksgiving weekend, so I located this
spot on the map, and set out. It’s very close to Kirch
Flat Campground, which
I have written about as Frog
Camp – you take the Trimmer Springs Road
around the north side of Pine
Flat Reservoir. Past Kirch Flat the
road crosses the river, then a mile or so above that it crosses back
and follows the North Fork. Instead of crossing the second bridge, I took a dirt road that
goes up the south side of the main river, arriving at Mill Flat
after a three mile drive that climbs up and down the canyon,
offering some spectacular views of the river.
road leaves the river at this point and follows Mill Flat Creek for
a while, eventually coming out on Highway 180, the road from Fresno
to King Canyon
National Park. About two miles above the camp is a place named Goofy Smith Flat.
This isn’t one of my names; this name was painted on the rock
cliff along the road. Across the creek was an old, dilapidated
cabin, which I am always going to assume was occupied by Mr. Smith,
who could have been a miner, rancher, or just a guy who liked to get
away from it all.
was one unexpected and not all that fun aspect of my first trip to
Mill Flat - in the middle of the night two or three large stake
trucks came up the road, stopped just above the camp, and dumped 20
or 30 head of cattle out. They wandered through the camp during the
night, but didn't really cause any problems.
was the first of many trips to Mill Flat Camp, including a
number of times that I have driven there while exploring out of
Kirch Flat. On another trip, with Jim McGee and Gary Reed, a man
drove in, parked, and walked over to our campfire. He said he was
waiting for some friends, and wanted to get warm and visit a few
minutes. During our conversation he said that he and his friends
were poachers from a small town in the valley, and that they
frequently hunted there, taking animals out of season or animals
that had no season. We were not thrilled with this, but since they
had guns, we said and did nothing.
Sequoia Campground was another place I camped at a few times, the
first time with my wife and daughters when they were quite young.
It’s located a couple of miles off Highway 41, between Oakhurst
Yosemite, not far from Miami Creek. The most notable thing about this spot
was the number of different animals we saw. Although there is lots
of wildlife in the Sierra, the creatures are shy and can see and
hear you before you see them, so spotting them is a special treat.
Sequoia was the only place outside the national parks where we saw
bears. I was across the road gathering firewood when I heard my
daughters yelling. I hurried back, and saw a bear cub up a tree. He
quickly came down and ran off, but of course, where there is a cub,
mama is nearby. My older daughter had wisely climbed into the car,
but my younger daughter took the event in stride, announcing “It
was only a baby bear.”
Another time we returned from a drive to see a porcupine waddling
out of our tent; and we also saw a pair of foxes on the road. We
also were told by another camper (a different time) that they had
seen a bear near their camp.
way, although this location is far from the nearest sequoia groves,
there is a lone sequoia growing there, although it’s small and we
didn’t find it till several years after our first visit. By this
time the forest service had removed the tables and “decertified”
this as an official campground. This is something they have done in
quite a few places, even though we need more places for people to
enjoy the outdoors, not fewer.
back to the
drainage, some time in the 1980s I found a very nice campsite,
although the road to it was horrible. If you take the McKinley Grove Road
from Dinkey Creek to Wishon, there is a dirt road off to the south
which leads to a developed campground, Sawmill Flat. You can
continue on this road down to Black Rock Reservoir where the
pavement begins, then on down to Balch Camp and down the road to the
upper end of Pine Flat and Kirch Flat.
there is a side road that goes north, paralleling the north fork of
the Kings, and eventually comes out at Wishon Reservoir. I would
categorize this as a four-wheel drive road, although it’s just
barely passable with a passenger vehicle, such as the Datsun pickup
I owned at the time.
mile or so in on this road there is a primitive campsite with a good
fire ring, where I have camped a number of times. Long Meadow Creek,
a small stream with
a pool suitable for wading, crosses the road near the camp, but the
best feature of this area is the rocky dome-like terrain between the
road and the river. You can make your way out through what I call
Wishon Domes, eventually reaching a cliff overlooking the river.
You are a few hundred feet above the water here, and trying to
descend would be foolhardy, but staying in the upper part of it is
time when I was camped here, I took my sleeping bag, a chair, water,
snacks, and a few other items and hiked out into the dome lands
about a half mile or so. This was in August, at the time of the
Perseids meteor shower. I set up camp in a flat, sandy spot
which was open on all sides (no big trees to block my view). I went
to sleep for a while, waking up around , when the meteors are usually at their peak, and was rewarded with
seeing 23 meteors.
in the Pine Flat area, I am going to say a bit about some nice
camping spots along Big Creek, on the Blue Canyon Road.
Driving around Pine Flat, there are two large streams that run
into the lake from the north – Sycamore Creek and Big Creek. There
is an old roadway along Sycamore Creek, but it is not accessible to
vehicles, and I don’t know where or how far it goes. However, the
road along Big Creek goes for a number of miles, and eventually
joins Highway 168 a little below Shaver
first six miles or so, the road follows the creek and is relatively level, then the road leaves the
creek and begins to climb up into the foothills, quickly ascending
to about 3,000 feet. Here it rejoins the creek again.
gone up this road to a big dry meadow near the 2,000 foot level,
where I set up camp a few hundred feet from the road. During this
and later visits, I experienced the most unusual weather conditions
I have ever encountered. A partial list includes:
(in December) with a low of 19 degrees
drops in the late afternoon when there were no clouds (just some
that drifted up to the edge of the meadow where it drops off, but
did not venture into the meadow
fierce wind that came up at sundown and blew all night, rocking the
experienced this last event the first time I went there, in January
1984, accompanied by Tim, who was later to become my son-in-law. We
huddled by the fire until bedtime, and he tried to set up his bed on
the downwind side of the truck, but it was pretty much impossible to
escape the wind.
assumed this was an unusual event that would not likely be repeated,
so I camped there again in April, and again was nearly blown away.
Tim, my daughter Teri, and her husband at the time were joining me
on the second day, but when they arrived, I told them we needed to
move down to a lower level.
I think the weather here is related to the terrain - the large, open
field drops off suddenly on the south, and has high hills on the
other three sides. These weather conditions caused us to name this
spot Minnesota Flats.
We drove back down the
Blue Canyon Road
to a place where people had created a primitive camp site near the
creek. That spot was occupied, so we went up a little dirt track on
the other side to a flat spot about 50 feet higher. There was an old
cement foundation at this spot, so it became Concrete Flats.
camped here a lot of times – it was nice and flat, you could back
the truck in between a couple of sections of concrete and have a
solid place to set things, and it offered the usual low foothill
green grass and wild flowers for winter and early spring camping. In
fact, this was the first place my older grandson, Johnny, ever went
camping, at age eight months, in April of 1985.
time we were visited by a ranger, so I asked him the purpose of the
concrete foundation, and he said it was once a slaughter house.
However, we had the good fortune to meet Jim Montgomery, one of two
brothers who lived in a ramshackle cabin nearby, able to stay there
because they owned a mining claim. When I mentioned the
slaughterhouse theory to Jim, he scoffed and said “that guy
doesn’t know what he’s talking about; this was a tungsten
the last time we went there to camp, it was covered with garbage,
and we moved on to another spot, so we haven’t camped there since
some time in 1995. However, my notes showed at least 14 overnight
stays there, and I also made a number of day trips for sight seeing
and wood cutting.
to give a brief mention of a camping trip to Chilkoot Campground, on
the Beasore Road, which leaves Road 274 on the east side of Bass
Lake, and goes east into the mountains a long ways. In June, 1991 Teri, Johnny and I went there on my
first camping trip with a trailer. I remember the main thing that
impressed us was that we slept later than usual, being inside where
it was warm and dry.
transitioning into the modern era, in July, 2000, we had our first
campout at what has now become Stargazer Rock, on which I have reported
annually since 2005.
and Mikie went up first in their Toyota
4-Runner, while Tim and I came up later in my 1990 Ford truck (no
trailer). We went up Highway 168 past Shaver Lake, then took a road
that goes out of a snow play area, and joins the Rock Creek Road
(which comes in from the Dinkey Creek Road). During this trip, we
drove up to Bear Creek, which I had first visited about 25 years
earlier. I probably had not been there for 15 years or more. There
were people camped there, but we went down by the creek; Tim fished,
Teri and I read, and Mikie slept the whole time. (In 2020 I complied
a more detailed
report on our first few trips to Stargazer Rock.)
were many other camping trips, with a constantly varying cast of
characters, although my favorites were those with my daughters,
first as children, then later with their boyfriends, husbands,
and/or kids. Many of the places I have mentioned became favorites
for a time, and we camped at each of them repeatedly. I
don’t have a record of every trip, but I was amazed to discover
that I camped at Concrete Flats at least 14 times, and certainly
there are other spots that came close to double digits.
intended to include camping and backpacking trips in one report, but
this has gone on so long that I am going to do a separate report and
web page on backpacking.
Estel, May 2009
2012 Update: When I reviewed this page recently, I realized that
I had pasted text from my notes at the top, intending to include
more camping trips, and had inadvertently uploaded the page in that
form. I will offer just a few highlights of those trips.
Cold Springs Meadow: This big meadow is at about 7,000 feet in
elevation, up the road past Chilkoot Campground. I camped there a
time or two in the 1970s or 1980s, but the most memorable trip was
with Johnny (age 5) in 1989. During our stay there we counted 27 log trucks
going by. We hiked down the road toward a small store nearby, or at
least I hiked. Johnny rode his scooter two miles down the road and a
trail, and then pushed it all the way back up.
& Jennifer's Cabin: Not a camping spot, but an actual cabin, where
my younger daughter and her husband lived when they worked in Kings
Canyon-Sequoia National Parks. This was in the employee residence area,
and was a primitive accommodation. This was where we celebrated my 50th
birthday, with a surprise visit from my Dad and Mother, who were camped
nearby in their motor home. I slept in my pickup, and I think everyone
else, maybe excepting 5-year old Johnny, stayed up most of the night.
Flats: This is a big flat area on the north side of the Kings
River, about three miles up the dirt road that leaves the Balch Camp
road where the road crosses the river. In 1992 we went there for
Martin Luther King weekend. Accompanied by daughter Teri and
grandson Johnny, I took my trailer. We were joined by Johnny's
friend Jeremy, as well as Keith Sohm and Jeff Adolph, two men I knew
from the local computer club. They had known each other since junior
high days, and had camped together many times..
1993 we went there with the same cast, minus Jeremy, for President's
Day weekend. Although it was foggy back in Fresno, we enjoyed bright
sunshine. Driving up the dirt road in the evening, I reached a spot
where there was loose sandy soil on hard-packed dirt, and I could
not get traction. A couple came down the road in a 4-wheel drive
Toyota, so we hitched the trailer to their vehicle and they pulled
it past the bad spot.
spot has since been developed as a group camp, with toilet and
MLK weekend 1994, we had our first campout at Kirch Flat Campground,
located just above the upper end of Pine Flat Reservoir. Jeff joined
us, and Johnny brought Kyle, a friend from Indian Guides. Tim and
Teri came up for some 4-wheel driving the second day. We drove up to
Goofy Smith Flat, where the boys climbed up the steep hillside.
Back in camp, they slept in their own camp down by the river the
first night, and set up their own camp in the campground and cooked their
own supper the second night. We came home to learn of big earthquake in L.A.
had hoped to make the MLK weekend campout an annual event, but weather,
different interests, and scheduling problems ended it at three years
In October 1994, Johnny and I camped here with the trailer. We drove up to
Cold Springs Meadow in the
afternoon, where we experienced snow pellets as we were leaving. Sitting
around the campfire that night, we had snow
pellets mixed with rain droplets just before dark. At night there was a
hard wind; then it got calm, with the temperature dropping to 29 degrees.
Four Wheel Drive Camp: I had camped at a forest service
campground in the trailer at this magnificent mountain lake a few
years earlier, but the most memorable trips were those when we went
to a primitive camp about two miles back the four wheel drive road
on the east side of the lake. We went there in 1996, but I do not
have notes on that trip. On July 3-4, 1999, I went there with Teri
& her family and Johnny's friend Dustin. They went up Thursday
night, and I went Saturday, meeting Tim at the trailhead to catch a
ride in to the camp.
had a giant beach
bonfire Saturday night, under the direction of Johnny and Dustin; four teenage
kids camping nearby came over, along with some younger kids who left
early. The old folks went to bed before ; JD
and Dustin hung in till about 2. Tim, Teri and Mikie stayed over
till Monday, while I returned home with JD and Dustin Sunday
April 2015 Update: Recently I thought of a few other camping
trips that I'd like to record, more for my own recollection that
Basin: I lived in Salinas for a little less than a year in the
early 1970s (while keeping my house in Fresno, where I returned
after my time in the foggy coastal area). I made a number of day
trips to nearby Santa Cruz and Monterey. One day I decided I should
go overnight to the redwoods, so I found Big
Basin Redwoods State Park on the map (and in the Santa Cruz
Mountains). I had little or no camping equipment, but I had an Opal
station wagon in which the back seat could be folded down. I grabbed
some food to go, and drove up to Santa Cruz and into the mountains.
I don't remember much else about this trip, except that I believe I
did some walks through the redwoods.
National Monument: This was a more organized trip, again
starting from Salinas. I had a folding cot, the weather was nice,
and I preferred to sleep outdoors when possible. I drove north and
east toward Hollister, and got on State Highway 25, which goes south
parallel to US 101. About half way between Hollister and the
junction with State 198, a road goes west into the mountains and
what was then Pinnacles National Monument (now National
Park). I set up camp in a low elevation campground among live
oaks, and set out on a loop trail that goes into the rocky crags and
by the pinnacles themselves, a group of rock
towers (note that this link includes photos that are NOT in
the Pinnacles area).
it was not an area where bears were considered a problem, I left
food and other stuff out on the picnic table when I went to bed. I
was awakened by a noise, and got up to find two raccoons helping
themselves to my bag of chocolate chip cookies!
other special memory of this trip was that there was a redtail hawk
perched on virtually every other fence post along Highway 25,
appropriately so since these are the Gabilán
Home State Forest: At least two or three times, in years that I
can no longer recall, I camped in Mountain
Home State Forest, a sequoia grove in the mountains of Tulare
County, above Porterville. This relatively small area has some of
the largest and oldest of the Sierra redwoods. It is located near
the Wishon Fork of the Kaweah River. I camped there one time with
my friend Gary Reed, and another with my daughters. On this trip
Jennifer and I walked out into an open area near camp at night, and
saw one of those magnificent meteors that went almost entirely
across the sky. Discussing this recently with Jennifer she
commented, "It was one of those where you could say, 'Look!'
and the person would easily have time to look up and see it."
Home is not far from Balch Park, mentioned near the beginning of
August 2020: In my latest review I discovered that in
describing the location of Chilkoot Campground, I had made an
egregious error. My apologies to anyone who searched in vain for
this campground on the Sky Ranch Road. It is, always has been, and
hopefully always will be on the Baesore Road. The error has been
corrected above. That said, all these mountain roads interconnect,
and with the right turns, you CAN "get there from here."
(Click to enlarge; photos open in a new window)
Dick at Bridalveil Falls, 1944
Dick and his dad Bob at Wawona Point, 1945
4-H Camp in Yosemite, early 1950s
Yosemite Falls - timeless
Jennifer, Jackie, Jack, Helen
(Jackie's parents), Teri, 1970
Jennifer on the rocks at
Teri & Jackie at Tiger Flat, May
Teri in the tent, about 1966
Jackie at White Bark Lookout point,
Dick's photo expedition to Nelder
McGee, Dick Estel, Sandy, Angie & Rachel McGee and Gary Reed at
stump in Nelder Grove, 1983
Jennifer, Dick, Teri, Johnny at
Bull Buck Tree in Nelder Grove, 1987
Stump field at upper part of Nelder
Old Granddad Tree, Nelder Grove
Dick on stump in Nelder campground,
Rod Neely at Bear Creek, 1983
Bear Creek's rocky channel
McGee girls sleeping in the hatchback
Ruby Creek, near Bear Creek
Along the road to Goofy Smith Flat
Grass at Mill Flat Creek Campground
Gary Reed and Jim
McGee at Mill Flat Creek Campground
Dick, Jim and
Dick at the edge, Wishon Domes
The north fork of the Kings is down in
Jennifer at a
place we called Greenlawn Meadow
Granite Gorge & Hell Hole
Pool in Granite Gorge
Lilly pond near Wishon Domes campsite
Mikie out in the domes, 2002
Long Meadow Creek
McGee girls at Concrete Flats
Sandy McGee, Dick Estel, Gary Reed
Teri, Little Johnny & Big Johnny at
A cold morning at Concrete Flats
Bob & Hazel Estel at Nelder July 2001
Lew Koch looking down Helm Creek, below